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Saturday, January 08, 2005 

The Byes Have It

As we get set to watch the wild card games this weekend, it is important to curb your enthusiasm for the winners, no matter how well they look. Since the playoff field was expanded to 12 teams in 1990, just 11 of the 56 wild-card game winners have advanced to their conference championship game. Of those 11 teams, 5 reached the Super Bowl and 2 won it. In other words, the teams who earn a bye have won 80.4% of the divisional playoff games since 1990:

Divisional Playoff Results for Home (Bye) teams since 1990

Year W L Notes
2003 2 2 Carolina lost Super Bowl, Indy lost Conf. champ
2002 4 0
2001 3 1 Philadelphia lost Conf. championship
2000 3 1 Baltimore won Super Bowl
1999 3 1 Tennessee lost Super Bowl
1998 4 0
1997 3 1 Denver won Super Bowl
1996 3 1 Jacksonville lost Conf. championship
1995 2 2 GB and Indy both lost Conf. championship
1994 4 0
1993 3 1 KC lost Conf. championship
1992 3 1 Buffalo lost Super Bowl
1991 4 0
1990 4 0

This format has been great at rewarding the best teams in each conference. Prior to 1990, the 10 team field contained 3 divisional winners and 2 wild cards in each conference. Every division winner received a bye, increasing the chances that a poor division winner with a record worse than one of the wild cards would get a week off. The only "advantage" for the best team was that they got to play the winner of the wild card game instead of a rested team. Now it is nearly impossible for a division champion with a lousy record to get a bye, an important point with so much parity in the NFC this year.

Thanks to Sharp Sports for helping me with this research. Their site allows you to look up results and standings for any of the major sports, and their search option is fairly powerful. In my case I searched for playoff results since the mid-1980s since I had forgotten when the playoff format changed.

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